Wednesday, August 30, 2006

End of Era: Mahfouz is Gone

Naguib Mahfouz, the most famous Arab-language writer of modern times, and a Nobel Literature Prize laureate (click here for a text of his Nobel acceptance speech) has passed away today at the age of ninety-four.

While he was generally seen as being a voice of moderation and religious tolerance, his name was once associated with controversy after the 1959 publication of his novel "Children of Gebelaawi" in serial form in an Egyptian newspaper -- it was considered blasphemous and thus was never published in full form in his homeland of Egypt, though it was later published as a novel in Arabic and English, outside of Egypt. This novel later precipitated a fatwa and an assassination attempt on his life by a religious extremist in 1994.

The respected Palestinian academic Edward Said once wrote of Mahfouz:

"Mahfouz's aim is, I think, to embody ideas so completely in his characters and their actions that nothing theoretical is left exposed. But what has always fascinated him is in fact the way the Absolute--which for a Muslim is of course God as the ultimate power--necessarily becomes material and irrecoverable simultaneously."

Novels are generally a modern phenomenon of literature, replacing poetry as the dominant literary form consumed by the masses, both in the East and West. However, in the Middle East, poetry is still at the top and most countries only have one or at most a few well-received and prolific novelists. Mahfouz paved the way for Arab-language novelists and will forever be respected for this achievement.

If you've never read a Naguib Mahfouz novel, it would seem that now is a good time to start.

Labels: ,